Chapter VI. Athenian Costume.
33. The General Nature of Greek Dress. - In every age the important kingdom of dress has been reserved for the peculiar sovereignty of woman. This is true in Athens, though not perhaps to the extent of later ages. Still an Athenian lady will take an interest in "purple and fine linen" far exceeding that of her husband, and where is there a more fitting place than this in which to answer for an Athenian, the ever important question "wherewithal shall I be clothed"?
Once again the Athenian climate comes in as a factor, this time in the problem of wardrobe. Two general styles of garment have divided the allegiance of the world, - the clothes that are PUT ON and the clothes that are WRAPPED AROUND. The former style, with its jackets, trousers, and leggings, is not absolutely unknown to the Athenians, - their old enemies, the Persians, wear these[*]; but such clumsy, inelegant garments are despised and ridiculed as fit only for the "Barbarians" who use them. They are not merely absurdly homely; they cannot even be thrown off promptly in an emergency, leaving the glorious human form free to put forth any noble effort. The Athenians wear the wrapped style of garments, which are, in final analysis, one or two large square pieces of cloth flung skillfully around the body and secured by a few well-placed pins. This costume is infinitely adjustable; it can be expanded into flowing draperies or contracted into an easy working dress by a few artful twitches. It can be nicely adjusted to meet the inevitable sense of "beauty" bred in the bone of every Athenian. True, on the cold days of midwinter the wearers will go about shivering; but cold days are the exception, warm days the rule, in genial Attica.[+]
[*]The Persians no doubt learned to use this style of garment during their life on the cold, windy steppes of Upper Asia, before they won their empire in the more genial south.
[+]The whole civilization of Athens was, of course, based on a climate in which artificial heat would be very little needed. A pot of glowing charcoal might be used to remove the chill of a room in the very coldest weather. Probably an Athenian would have regarded a climate in which furnace heat was demanded nearly eight months in the year as wholly unfit for civilized man.
This simplicity of costume has produced certain important results. There are practically no tailors in Athens, only cloth merchants, bleachers, and dyers. Again fashions (at least in the cut of the garments) seldom change. A cloak that was made in the days of Alcibiades (say 420 B.C.) can be worn with perfect propriety to-day (360 B.C.) if merely it has escaped without severe use or moth holes. It may be more usual this year to wear one's garments a little higher or a little more trailing than formerly; but THAT is simply a matter for a shifting of the pins or of the girdle.
As a result, the Athenian seldom troubles about his "spring" or "winter" suit. His simple woolen garments wear a very long time; and they have often been slowly and laboriously spun and woven by his wife and her slave girls. Of course even a poor man will try to have a few changes of raiment, - something solid and coarse for every day, something of finer wool and gayer color for public and private festivals. The rich man will have a far larger wardrobe, and will pride himself on not being frequently seen in the same dress; yet even his outfit will seem very meager to the dandies of a later age.
34. the Masculine Chiton, Himation, and Chlamya. - The essential garments of an Athenian man are only two - the CHITON and the HIMATION. The chiton may be briefly described as an oblong of woolen cloth large enough to wrap around the body somewhat closely, from the neck down to just above the knees. The side left open is fastened by fibule - elegantly wrought pins perhaps of silver or gold; in the closed side there is a slit for the arm. There is a girdle, and, if one wishes, the skirt of the chiton may be pulled up through it, and allowed to hang down in front, giving the effect of a blouse. The man of prompt action, the soldier, traveler, worker, is "well girded," - his chiton is drawn high, but the deliberate old gentleman who parades the Agora, discussing poetry or statecraft, has his chiton falling almost to a trailing length. Only occasionally short sleeves were added to this very simple garment; they are considered effeminate, and are not esteemed. If one's arms get cold, one can protect them by pulling up the skirt, and wrapping the arms in the blouse thus created.
An Athenian gentleman when he is in the house wears nothing but his chiton; it is even proper for him to be seen wearing nothing else upon the streets, but then more usually he will add an outer cloak, - his HIMATION.
The himation is even simpler than the chiton. It is merely a generous oblong woolen shawl. There are innumerable ways of arranging it according to the impulse of the moment; but usually it has to be worn without pins, and that involves wrapping it rather tightly around the body, and keeping one of the hands confined to hold the cloak in place. That is no drawback, however, to a genteel wearer. It proclaims to the world that HE does not have to work, wearing his hands for a living; therefore he can keep them politely idle.[*] The adjustment of the himation is a work of great art. A rich man will often have a special slave whose business it is to arrange the hang and the folds before his master moves forth in public; and woe to the careless fellow if the effect fails to display due elegance and dignity!
[*]Workingmen often wore no himation, and had a kind of chiton (an exomis) which was especially arranged to leave them with free use of their arms.